One in seven adults suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition characterised by symptoms such as gastrointestinal wind, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Although more women than men are affected by IBS, the condition is common throughout the world, including Australia, the US, Europe as well as many Asian countries.
Now, thanks to the research team at the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University, a new smartphone application has been launched which provides accurate information about foods that trigger IBS reactions and will significantly help sufferers to manage their symptoms.
It is widely recognised that the best way to alleviate IBS symptoms is to avoid foods that contain a family of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.
The concept of FODMAPs was developed through research at Monash University. Professor Peter Gibson, Director of Gastroenterology at The Alfred Hospital and Monash University and Dr Jane Muir, Head of Translational Nutrition Science at Monash University led the first group in the world to measure the majority of FODMAPs in food. The team now has a comprehensive database of FODMAP content in food that has been generated out of their laboratory at Monash University.
“The purpose of accurately measuring FODMAP content is so we can design a diet where we actually know what we’re changing,” said Professor Gibson. “In the past there have been many diets which were proposed to help IBS symptoms, whereas our research at Monash has been done to profile the evidence that enable doctors, dietitians and health professionals to accept the information and change how they manage patients with IBS.”
“Much of the information on the internet is no longer accurate because it’s out of date,” said Professor Gibson. “Our data is evidence based, it’s been peer reviewed and published in major journals around the world so it can be trusted.”
The launch of the FODMAP application came in response to an increasing number of requests about the FODMAP content of food. “We had a growing database and wanted to make this information available,” said Dr Muir. “A smartphone application is an ideal way of delivering information to where it’s needed — to IBS patients, health professionals and scientists in the field.”
“We think this application is unique because it is based on the scientific work at Monash. All foods have been tested carefully and scientifically measured so the information is entirely accurate and not based on guess work or anecdotal evidence,” said Dr Muir.
Foods are listed in the application using a traffic light system and according to serving sizes. Red foods are high in FODMAPs and should be avoided, orange foods are moderate in FODMAPs and may be tolerated by some people while green foods are low in FODMAPs and are fine for consumption. The specific food serving sizes in the application is one of the most useful tools for IBS sufferers because the guess work is taken out of how much food can be safely consumed. For example, half a cup of broccoli may be well tolerated but more than this can cause IBS symptoms.
“The app also contains recipes and meal ideas which will help IBS patients interpret and follow the diet,” said Dr Jaci Barrett, Research Dietitian at Monash University. “There is even a seven day challenge where patients can record their food and symptoms to show their doctor or dietitian to help in the management of their condition.”
In addition to the FODMAP content of foods, the application will have a lot of other information, including a copy of the low FODMAP patient information booklet which contains general information about IBS.
“There are a lot of other resources about IBS on the internet but information has changed over the years as research has progressed,” said Dr Barrett. “The new FODMAP app allows us to give consumers and health professionals the most up to date information based on our research.”
The iPhone application, also accessible for iPad, will be updated every twelve months and will be available for android devices early next year. All proceeds from the sale of the application will go to the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University to fund further research.